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UN and Venezuela Agree Closer Cooperation on Human Rights

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 9, 2019.

The United Nations said Tuesday that it will be permitted to more closely monitor the human rights situation in crisis-torn Venezuela after signing an agreement with Caracas to tighten cooperation.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza signed a Memorandum of Understanding on September 20 establishing "a framework for future discussion and cooperation", the UN said in a statement.

The deal among other things provides for a team of two UN rights officers to settle in the country, which is caught in an economic crisis and a political standoff between President Nicolas Maduro's government and National Assembly leader Juan Guaido.

"I and my office are committed to working closely with the authorities, as well as with civil society organizations, to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental liberties of everyone in the country," Bachelet said in the statement.

The oil-rich country suffers from hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods from food to medicine, a crisis that has forced some 3.6 million people to flee since 2016.

The agreement aims to "better protect and promote human rights in Venezuela through an array of new steps", the rights office said.

The steps include assistance in "the strengthening of national human rights protection mechanisms and access to justice," but also "facilitation of visits by UN Special Rapporteurs over the next two years."

Caracas has among other things committed to allow UN rights officers access to detention centers, and to have full freedom of movement across the country, the statement said.

The UN rights office said that the details would be hammered out within 30 days of the signing of the Memorandum.

Tuesday's announcement could impact discussions this week in Geneva on a draft resolution before the UN Human Rights Council urging the body to send a team of investigators to probe rights violations in Venezuela.

The text, presented by a group of Latin American and other countries, is due to be voted on before the rights council wraps up its ongoing session on Friday.

But with stronger cooperation with the UN rights office on the horizon, countries may shy away from backing a full-blown UN investigation.

Bachelet herself has voiced deep concern over rights violations in Venezuela, but has appeared reluctant to back the establishment of an investigative body.

The UN rights chief, who recently visited Venezuela and has been working to set up an office there, told journalists earlier this month that her main priority was to establish a monitoring and reporting presence in the country.